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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009-12-20 Lk 01 39-45 Cut to the Chase

2009-12-20 Lk 01 39-45 Cut to the Chase

Luke 1:39-45

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

December 20, 2009

Here, in the final shopping hours before Christmas, I
want to take a moment to thank you all for coming to church.

Especially you men.

Because, being a man of the male persuasion, I know how
important the last minutes of shopping time can be.

Shopping gets more exciting as the game clock winds down
and you’re this close to staging a last-second, three-point
good-husband shot from way downtown.

For an awful lot of people – men, women, boys and
girls – Christmas is a full-contact, competitive sport… which is
so how God envisioned it.

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of
great parking spaces.”

(And there was much rejoicing.)

Elbowing for Elmos, cursing the computer, beeping at the
Blount County drivers (of which I am one. I understand).

Yes, it certainly looks and sounds a lot like Christmas,
everywhere you go.

Advent is a time of waiting.

We do a lot of waiting this time of year.

Not by choice.

We wait because the checkout lines are halfway down the

We wait because the online ordering network crashed.

We wait because we drive cars – and so does everyone
else, all at the same time.

We wait, but not because we want to.

We wait, but we don’t enjoy it.

We wait, and think of all the thirty-eleven other things
we ought to be doing, but can’t because, you know, it’s
Christmas, and we're filled up to here with cheer.

We’re at church and we’re -- supposed to be still.

And enjoy it.

Even though we know the clock is tick-tick-ticking away
those last precious minutes of preparation and the doggone minister
is torturing us with what we already know can we please just hurry it
up a little, thank you very much?

Mary the mother-to-be of Jesus waited.

Her cousin, Elizabeth, the mother-to-be of John the
Baptist waited.

To put it more precisely, they expected.

They were expecting.

And while it’s traditional to think of their
expectation as a blissful duet of immaculate conception, there’s no
reason to believe their waiting wasn’t as unremarkably human as
that of any other mothers-to-be.

Nausea, pain, cravings, moods that swing from Alpha to

It would be sweet to think that Mary and Elizabeth had
it different from others of the female persuasion.

It would be sweet – but not very realistic.

In all likelihood, their waiting was filled with all the
ups and downs, all the joys and irritations, and moreso, that have
come to be associated with the Christmas season.

And as with any other mothers-to-be, as their birth
clocks were tick-tick-ticking away and their bodies held them captive
to what they already knew, they would have been more than willing to
ask God to move along just a little bit faster.

Instead, God tells Mary and Elizabeth, and us – wait.

Wait another 24 minutes.

Wait another 24 hours.

Wait another 24 moments of a while of a spell.

Wait some undefined interval that makes no sense when
you could be doing something else, when Jesus could just appear, full
grown and Kingly.


God told the world to wait – through all the Old
Testament times.

God told Mary and Elizabeth to wait – nine months and
so many minutes and so many seconds (each of which pregnant women are
keenly aware).

There must be something special about waiting, because
God asks us to do it so often.


Can we just “cut to the chase?”

It’s a figure of speech we don’t think much about.

Cutting to the chase is born of 20th
Century Hollywood.

Whether it’s Laurel and Hardy racing a train, or Buzz
and Woody racing to save the toys, the chase scene is the part to
which a movie builds.

Even “The Sound of Music” has a chase scene.

The nuns steal the Nazis’ distributor cap (yea for the
clergy!) and the Singing Von Trapps finally make it across the

But cut to the chase too quickly, and the suspense never

You’ve got to have “A Few of My Favorite Things,”
and “Edelweiss” and all those other great songs first.

In order for the chase to work, we have to wait.

The Gospel According to Luke is kind of like a


If you look at the text in your Bible, just before any
great event ever happens in Luke, there’s a song.

You can tell by the way the paragraphs shift into

The characters, like Mary and Elizabeth, break into song
in anticipation of whatever hair-raising miracle might be coming up

So instead of, “Ouch, Elizabeth, I can’t wait for
this baby named Jesus to be born,” we hear, “My soul magnifies
the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

The text today is a scene of joy, and the hills are
alive with the sound of its music.

There will be plenty of chases to come – Jesus will be
chased out of cities, crowds will chase after his healing, the
disciples will race to tell that he is risen –

but before cutting to any of these chases, God is going
to make Mary and Elizabeth – God is going to make us all – wait.


Each of us has our own personal Christmas story.

If Hollywood made a movie of your last four weeks, how
would it look?

If Blockbuster had the DVD of your Christmas, would they
put it under “Action/Adventure?”

Or maybe, “Family Drama?”


Or, “Horror?”

What would be the title of your holiday movie?

It’s a Wonderful Life”?

Or, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas”?

Or, “Home Alone”?

Or, on the musical side, if you had to sing one song to
describe your Christmas, what would it be?

Did you ever notice how many Christmas songs are about
waiting, about absence?

I’ll be home for Christmas, just you wait and see.”

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.”

Even, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front



No wonder people get melancholy this time of year.

So many of our songs are about the emptiness of waiting.

How is your Christmas story going this year?

Has the plot been filled with waiting?

The question itself sounds so strange.

Filled with waiting.”

How could anything be filled with waiting?

We think of waiting as a time of absence – the blank
tape when nothing’s on the screen, the repeating skip at the end of
the record.

But God thinks of waiting differently.

God intends waiting time to be fertile time.

God isn’t a magician; In the Bible, God is a
carpenter, God is a farmer, God is a fisherman.

God in the Bible is a person who understands the
fullness of waiting.

As with Mary and Elizabeth, God enjoys the pregnant

Poet Alice Meynell, who lived in turn of Twentieth
Century England, wrote

No sudden thing of glory and fear
Was the Lord's
coming; but the dear
Slow Nature's days followed each other
form the Saviour from his Mother
- One of the children of the

How many nights did the Wise Men follow the star?

How many times had the shepherds fallen asleep gazing
toward heaven, praying for a sign?

As Mary rubbed her hand across her tummy, how many
lullabies did she hum to her baby?

Mary was literally filled with the Holy Spirit, but even
she had to wait to see her Savior, to hold his hand, to teach him to
speak, to watch him grow into a man.

Instead of cutting to the chase, God fades in slowly.

We become aware of God as we wait for God.

We ask God to make our waiting a time of fullness, to
use our waiting hours, to inch us forward, to guide each day so that
it builds upon the previous, so that our purpose on earth slowly,
slowly grows toward its fulfillment.

In these last waiting hours before Christmas, may we
become aware of God’s presence.

May we become aware of God’s fullness even in God’s

May we stop chasing after fulfillment.

May we hear God’s heartbeat inside us.

Lord, don’t cut out a thing.

Help us to become more like Mary and Elizabeth.

Help us to wait.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

02-Ad2-P-C 2009 Lk 03 01-06 Voice in the Wilderness.doc

Luke 3:1-6

02-Ad2-P-Year C

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

December 9, 2009


What are the significant events in your life?

Graduation. Marriage. Divorce. Second marriage.

Birth of a child. Child moves out of the house. Child moves back into the house.

An illness. A death. Senior Prom.


You might not remember what year it was as years are numbered.

But you remember the world around these events.

You remember the turning points where you made a choice, or when fate made a decision for you.

You remember the times when extraordinary events took hold of your life, and changed you.

But, more often than not, we remember the extraordinary in the context of the ordinary.

It’s the little, contextual things that trigger intense memories.

You smell the aroma of turkey in the oven, and you remember a life-changing conversation you had with your mother.

You watch a baby being baptized, and you remember the birth of your own child.

Someone clears their throat and it sounds just like the way your dad did it.

We safely and quietly hold within our hearts treasured memories of special events.

But, more often than not, it’s some tiny, almost insignificant cue that brings these treasures to mind.



How do you remember the person, or the events, that led you to Christ?

Some of you can remember the precise day and time when you accepted Jesus as your personal savior.

For some of you, the presence and salvation of Jesus Christ has always been near, even if you didn’t recognize it.

You were always part of the church, and the church was always part of you, even though you didn’t know what that meant.

But even if faith snuck up on you, there’s someone or something that was your John the Baptist.

There’s someone or something that was a signpost, a prophet, a realization.

Think about that person, that event that first led you to your own faith.


If we think of Jesus as God come to earth, then Jesus is a man who needs no introduction.

God could easily have given Jesus and his ministry to the world without the help of John the Baptist.

And yet, throughout scripture, there’s always someone pointing the way.

Almost no great biblical event ever takes place without someone there to announce ahead of time what’s to come.

The way-pointers are an indispensable part of God’s standard operating procedure.

When Jesus was born, it was a star that pointed the way to Bethlehem, so the wise ones and the lowly shepherds could find the manger.

When Jesus began his ministry, it was his cousin, John, who prepared the way of the Lord, calling people to repentance, baptizing them for the forgiveness of sins.

There’s always someone or something that points the way to Jesus.

This is the way God works.


Again, think back to the way-pointers to the turning points in your life.

Think of yourself and your faith before them.

And think of your faith after them.

What did they contribute to your understanding of Jesus?

Could you have found your faith without them?

God has created a world, and given us the gift of faith.

But this faith is always, always brought to us with the help of someone or something coming before to point the way.

Which is also to say that our faith is never, never solely our own.

We need each other, we need the church, we need even the unholy, hum-drum events of life to point us to Christ our Lord.


Think of your daily routine.

There are probably hundreds of habits that carry you from morning to night.

A morning alarm clock signals the dawn.

A crying baby signals it’s three hours before dawn.

A TV show tells us it’s time to pack up and get to work.

A phone call reminds us of an appointment.

Yet, most of the time, these ordinary events are just part of a daily blur of activity, rushing past us without causing so much as a ripple in our consciousness.

What if the routine of your day became to you a sign of God’s sustaining love?

What if these casual events could become signposts pointing the way to the real and present Spirit of Christ?

What are the chances that YOU might serve as a way-pointer for someone else?

What if your presence, rooted in the date and time of this day served to change someone’s life, even if you didn’t know it?

Were all the events or persons who led you to faith aware of their importance in your life?

Or were they just normal people, everyday happenings that gave you eyes to see and ears to hear?


John the Baptist was the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.

Each of us face our own wilderness as we make our journeys through life.

Each of our lives have twists and turns impossible to predict, and are often relentless in their tossing, turning curves.

John was an exceptional voice in a world that marked time in ordinary ways.

All it takes, is one.

All it takes is one voice to help us find our way when we’re lost.

All it takes is one voice of compassion, one voice of comfort, one voice of encouragement when we’re not sure how or even if we want to walk any further.

All it takes is one.


Give thanks to God for the ones who have pointed you in the direction of Jesus Christ.

Give thanks to God that even your ordinary voice, even your ordinary cycle of waking and sleeping, working and playing, shopping and returning –

even those most routine and hum-drum habits of the seasons of your life –

Give thanks to God that even those might be the one voice in the wilderness for someone lost and afraid.


Listen again to today’s scripture, thinking about those people or events that have signaled the greatest change in your own faith.

  In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
    "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    'Prepare the way of the Lord,
        make his paths straight.
    Every valley shall be filled,
        and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
    and the crooked shall be made straight,
        and the rough ways made smooth;
    and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' "


May God move straight through the twists and turns of your life’s road.

May God’s love smooth over your rough and jagged corners that unintentionally hurt those who pass by.

May God’s justice lower your mountains of conceit, and may God’s love fill the depths of your emptiness.

May you see, in the fullness of these days, THESE ordinary days, the salvation of God as it holds you and guides you, and brings you home.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

2008-11-30 Luke 21:25-36

2008-11-30 Luke 21:25-36

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Good morning.

Anybody else feeling a little worn out today?

Giving thanks takes it out of you.

You get extra points for being here the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Because Thanksgiving is hard.

You have to eat all that turkey and pumpkin pie.

You have to lay on the couch, and fall asleep watching football games you don't really care about.

Any of you feel like you've spent the last three days in the kitchen?

Thanksgiving - it takes a toll.

But now comes the best part, turkey sandwiches.

Turkey sandwiches on white bread with may-o-naise.

After all this Thanks and Giving, the scripture today's a little bit of a jolt.

Just about the time you get all warm and cozy after three grueling days of giving thanks, just about the time you start thinking of relaxing for one day of rest you come to church and instead you get a serious jolt.

"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken...."

But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come."

Um. Merry Christmas.

So much for a peaceful Sabbath.

The church in its centuries of wisdom looks at the weeks leading up to Christmas, the four Sundays of Advent and delivers a taser-sized jolt.

You think it's time to nap? the scriptures say.

You think it's time to let down?

You think you've got a minute to plan out your offense through Christmas, Hannukkah and Kwaanza?

Think again.

Scripture's bringing us a big-ol can of Jolt Cola, with caffeine, taurine, and Vitamin Gee You Better Get Yourself Movin' Now.

But why? Why the jolt?

Why the jolt at precisely the time when we want peace?

Why the anxiety when what we really want is children's laughter and chestnuts roasting on an open fire?

This little apocalypse at the front-end of Advent is an alarm bell for our souls.

Anybody like hearing the alarm clock go off in the morning?

This little apocalypse at the beginning of Advent is our wake-up call.

Before you sleepwalk through all the stuff you think you have to do in these coming weeks, before you step along with the rest of the revenge of the shopping zombies, wake up.

Wake up and remember!

Remember why we have Christmas in the first place.

Is it because of all the stuff we can plan and buy and cook?

Sometimes we're tempted to think so.

But we know it's not.

Christmas is about Jesus.

And Jesus is about God.

And God is about the stuff we can't do.

God's jolt is the gift of hope.


This morning we lit a candle of hope.

What do you hope for?

If you ask the kids, they probably have a list.

Or two.

But we all have our lists, at any age.

Only, as we get older the list might not have as many things you can get at the store.

Health. Savings.

A sense of accomplishment.


Those don't exactly fit in Santa's bag.

That's the difference between a wish and a hope.

You might wish for a Barbie Glamor Camper.

(Who in the world ever thought the words “glamor” and “camper” could go together?)

Or maybe a Barbie Totally Stylin Tattoo Doll.

(Honestly, they really make a Totally Stylin Tattoo Barbie. Goes so well with Multiple Body-pierce Ken.)

If you do your shopping online, you know that every store checkout area has something whimsically called, your "Wish List."

If you want to think about a purchase, or if you want to email it to someone buying you presents, you click, “Add to my Wish List.”

I have yet to see a store with a "Hope List."

Wishes are stuff we know we really don't need, but would be cool to have.

Hope is the stuff we long for.

You can get your wishes filled at Nieman-Marcus or Home Depot or Sea Ray.

Hope is tougher to find in retail.

Where do you find hope?

Maybe right here, in church.

I hope so.

Maybe you find hope in the pages of scripture.

Maybe your hope comes from sharing stories with other people who've made it through, or from just knowing that there are people who hope you make it through, and want to help, whatever your situation.

These days, people go “Church Shopping.”

If you had never been to a church before, if you browsed your way in the front door for the first time, you might think it strange that something as big as hope would come through vessels as fragile as the crackly pages of a book, or the veined hand of an elder.

You might think hope would come packaged and warrantied - read these verses, say these prayers, associate with these people and you'll have boatloads of hope, or your money back.

Hope's too fragile for that kind of treatment.

Hope has to be passed along with such care.

Hope is like a shaky hand lighting a candle's flame.

You just have to hope you meet the match to the wick long enough for the flame to ignite.

Hope is gently passed through a handshake or a hug, through eye contact that says, "I really am glad to see you."

Hope sits by a hospital bed.

Hope cries at a funeral.

Hope soars with the choir's harmony and hope dances on piano keys.

Hope is that scripture you've heard a million times and suddenly get, for no apparent reason, just the right word at the right time.

Hope defies explanation, defies rational thought, but hope is real.

You know it when you feel it.

And you know when you need it.

The first candle of Advent is a candle of hope.


The scripture, this little apocalypse described by Jesus, doesn't sound all that hopeful.

"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”

It sounds as if Jesus is saying the end is coming.

Like the signs outside Sevier Heights say, "Be Prepared to Stop."

That's exactly what Jesus is saying.

The end is coming, soon.

But he's not saying it the way the guy with the sign on Market Square, walking in circles is saying it.

Because the apocalypse Jesus is describing is a sign, not just of endings, but of a grand, new beginning.

At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

What Jesus is saying will end is the need for wishes.

What Jesus is saying will end is the pandemic of hopelessness.

What's ending is the search for hope because here, descending from the clouds with power and glory is hope.

Hope tangible, hope touchable, hope real, live and in person.

Hope that we can hold onto.

Hope that holds onto us.

God's hope in the new day of a new heaven and a new earth is hope that will never, ever let us go.

God's hope rips through all the packaged wishes.

God's hope tears apart the gray skies and shines like radiant diamonds of new life, not from some distant tomorrow, but within our grasp and forever.

No more fragile hope.

No more broken hope.

No more hearts that yearn for something just out of reach.

Hope clear. Hope defined. Hope alive.

Scripture jolts us awake to a new morning, a new life in Christ Jesus.

The old life is gone, a new life has begun, in Christ Jesus we are alive, in him we hope.

Not as the world hopes.

But as those who aren't troubled, as those who aren't afraid of what tomorrow might bring.

Because our hope doesn't come from things seen, but from things lived, and shared, and new.


If you are worn out.

If the idea of Christmas stresses you out.

Start your Advent Season with a jolt.

Christ's coming isn't something you can bring.

Christ's coming isn't something you can usher in, as in, "Oh my gosh, we hung the garlands wrong - Christmas isn't coming this year!")

Christmas doesn't need you.

Christ doesn't need you.

And yet he chooses you.

And he wants you to hope in his word.

He wants you to find hope in scripture, and church, and even (and maybe especially) a few strangers, a few unexpected mercies.

Christ wants you to find hope in God.

Christ's hope should shake up your world.

Christ's coming will shake up our world.

Christ will bring us hope.

So be ready.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Please allow me to introduce myself,

2009-11-22 John 18:33-37
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Today is Christ the King Sunday. Quick -- other than Christ, name another famous king (modern).

  • King Hussein of Jordan
  • The Lion King
  • Michael Jackson, the King of Pop
  • Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll
  • The guy on 'The King of Queens,' Kevin (what's his name)

It's hard to name kings these days, much less any popular kings. We think of kings we think of outdated governments. Kings rule imaginary places, like Narnia. Or oppressive places, like Uganda. Kings are old-fashioned, primitive. When they're powerful, they're one step above military dictators. When they're weak, they've got that Prince Charles thing going.

We, on the other hand -- we pledge allegiance to the flag, not to any one person. We elect our own leaders. We're a democracy, not a monarchy. Democracy, good. Monarchy, bad.

So when we try to talk about Christ as King, we have a kind of built-in barrier. We have deep biases against kings and kingships. But on the other hand, we affirm Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, pretty often. One of our best songs says it - over, and over. ("And He shall reign forever and ever.") Monarchy bad. Eternal monarchy very good. This is one of those things that if you think too hard about, thou shalt get a headache. I think Christ the King is one of those things we don't think about because we don't like headaches.

Jesus must have been a real headache for Pontius Pilate. Jesus - and his supposed kingship - must have been a real pain in the neck. Not that Pilate deserves a lot of sympathy. But I think the dialog between Jesus and Pilate isn't that far from the contradictions we wrestle with when our hearts call Jesus king, but our minds are skeptical of kings. For Pilate, it was reversed: Pilate believed in kings (or caesars), but he was sceptical of Jesus.

I also think that too much of the time we have more in common with Pilate than we do with Jesus, and that causes headaches for the people who want to be our co-Pilates. Pilate and Jesus, ruler and subject. Pilate was the ruler, and Jesus was his subject. Or was it the other way around? Jesus was the ruler and Pilate was the subject. Which is it? Which is the truth?

This is a puzzling little passage from the Bible. I feel pretty certain that's the way God intended it.


It's good to be king. King of the castle. King of the hill. "King of the road."
Steven King, B. B. King, Larry King.
King Kong, Smoothie King, King Ranch Casserole.

All good, but none serious monarchs. In our world, Democracy is king. In a democracy, who has the real power? (Insurance lobbyists. Someone in Shanghai.) OK, who's supposed to have the real power? We are. We, the people. We're the ones who are supposed to be king. We get to choose our own leaders. We get to manage our own lives. We get to decide our own future. Right? Well, that's the way it was presented in the textbooks. Books don't lie. Right?

We're all kind of wrestling with these contradictions. We the people are supposed to be the ones in charge, but more and more it seems like no one is. (And that's not intended as a criticism of the President, because I'll bet he feels that way more than any of us. "Who do I have to talk to to get something done?") When everyone's king, no one's king, because there's no one to rule. Pilate asks, "What is truth?" When you don't know what's up, when you don't know what or who's in charge, when you don't know what or whom to believe, truth is meaningless. The only power is what you can cling to.

Do you ever have days when you feel utterly powerless? You raise your kids well, and they still make dumb decisions. You balance your checkbook, and your husband forgets to tell you about the new golf clubs that make the account go boing. You exercise, you eat low-fat foods that taste like cardboard, you floss. You go to church, you tithe 10% of your income, you always drop coins in the Salvation Army bucket. And then, in the shower, you find a lump. A drunk driver comes the wrong direction. In a split second, your life changes. You're not king anymore. Not even close.

It's good to be king. It's fun to convince yourself you're king. But in our quiet moments, in our moments of truth, we know whatever kingship we have is hanging by a thread, if that much. Add to that a growing suspicion that no one's in charge, or that all the ones who are in charge are looking out for their own interests, and you can get a real headache.


We say the Apostles' Creed every Sunday. In the Creed, which we say every Sunday, five people or
persons are identified by name. First, there's God, the Father
Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. We're all familiar with him. Then
there's Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord. That's two. ...who was
conceived by the Holy Ghost. That's three. And born of the Virgin Mary.
She's number four.

Lastly, one final person, number five: Pontius Pilate. Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried."

right up there with the names of the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit, just slightly after the Virgin Mary, is Pontius Pilate. Pilate
from Pontus. We say his name every week, as if he was a vitally
important man. A big shot. A king.

That's a sad irony. Pilate IS important in the story of our
faith. He's the one who allowed Christ to be crucified, dead, and
buried. But in the scale of human history, Pilate was a
middle-governing-body bureaucrat. He was a paper-shuffler. He was at
best the Michael Scott of the Roman Empire. (Michael Scott is the
incompetent middle-manager on TV's 'The Office.') At worst, Pilate was a
cruel dictator, a bully who tried to compensate for his own weakness by
stomping on powerless subjects. But even at his worst, Pilate doesn't
begin to compare to Idi Amin or Hitler or even Sadaam Hussein. He didn't have the power to be nearly as bad as he thought he was. Pilate
wasn't sent to Judea to think. His job was to be the face of the Roman
government, and to keep the Jews from causing Caesar headaches.

And yet, there Pilate is, one of only five names in the most common creed of the church.

Did Pilate actually crucify Jesus? No. Pilate washed his hands of responsibility. Washed his hands and sealed his fate. Pilates' great sin was preserving his delusion of power. Pilate was looking out for his own interests. And so, Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, and buried.

A delusion of power made Jesus suffer. A delusion of power crucified Jesus. Whenever we forget the thread of separation between our own power and our powerlessness, Jesus suffers. Whenever we thrive on the illusion of our own kingship, Jesus is crucified. Whenever we hurt others because we have the power, Jesus dies.

In this way, we have too much in common with Pontus Pilate. It's not really that good to be king, after all.


If Pilate wanted to be famous, wanted to be remembered forever more, he certainly got his wish. Here's a basic rule: Unless you're the Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, or the Virgin Mary, you don't want your name in a creed. Kind of like how it's a good day if you wake up and your name isn't in the newspaper. If you're on the front page or in the obituaries, it's probably not going to be a good day.

But here's the greatest irony of all. If Pilate had embraced his powerlessness, if Pilate had just proclaimed that Christ WAS king, Pilate might have been forgotten. If not forgotten, at least not mentioned ever single Sunday in a very unflattering light.

If protecting our illusions of power causes Jesus to suffer, what, then, does accepting our powerlessness do? If our quest for power decreases, does Jesus increase?

In another passage, the Bible says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." What if Pilate had embraced his own powerlessness and - at the same time - clung to the power of Christ?

We'll never know the answer to that question. Pilate made his choice.

You, however, you have a second chance. You, who wrestle with your own feelings of powerlessness, you have a choice. You can get depressed over your lack of power. You can get angry, and resentful, and Scrooge-like. Or, you can embrace your powerlessness. Embrace your weakness in the face of this world. Give up trying to be king. Give up trying to be Queen. Let go of your frustration with what is versus how you'd wish it to be and hold on to the one, eternal power that faces you, faces us all, this day. Embrace the truth of Jesus Christ not because he's going to make you powerful and remembered, but because he can make your weakness be forgotten. Embrace the power of Jesus because in him, and in him alone, you can do all things, you can do enough, through Christ who strengthens you.


Jesus gave Pilate headaches because he would never come out and say he was king. What Pilate couldn't get was that it was his own job to say whether or not Jesus was king. Pilate couldn't say. And so his fate was sealed.

What about you? Maybe it's really easy for you to say, "Jesus Christ is king." Maybe it's so easy you don't even have to think about it. But when you pay your bills and see where your money goes, who's your king? When you spend time raging against changes you can't control, who's your king? When you go to bed and lie awake worrying, who's your king?

Jesus doesn't promise everything's going to turn out alright in this world. In fact, he's really not all that encouraging about how this earthly life's going to go. Maybe because he knows how many powers we have to kiss up to. Maybe because he knows how hard it is to let go of our illusions. Maybe because he knows that we'll all suffer under the powers of Pilates.

And so Jesus never promises we'll be kings or queens of our own kingdoms. Instead, he gives us a choice. Do we hold onto our illusions of power? Or do we embrace his? Do we generate our own strength, or will we be strengthened through him? Do we hate what makes us weak, or in our weakness, do we find redemption?

So when we're faced with questions like this, it's a good thing to ask ourselves, W.W.P.D? What would Pilate do? Deny your inner Pilate and you'll lay claim to strength beyond your kingly dreams.

It's good to be king. But think about it. If you're king, what's Jesus? You know what Pilate said. Today's your chance to say something else.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

2009-11-15 Mark 13:1-13

2009-11-15 Mark 13:1-13 
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)
James McTyre

Destruction. Wars. Earthquakes. Famines - and we're just getting started, folks. Trials, beatings, betrayals, and death panels for grandma.

No, it's not Lou Dobbs. It's the Bible. But it sounds like Lou. Sounds like any one of the TV and radio people predicting the end of the world, the country, and life as we know it.

Don't we come to church to get away from all this stuff? There are Sundays I don't like preaching on the Bible. Because the Bible can really be a downer. This is one of those passages. The Bible's supposed to make us peaceful. Make us know our troubles are all the same, where everybody knows our name. Like Cheers.  

I like it when Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me." I don't like it when Jesus says, "Your own children are going to rise up against you and have you put to death." Don't give them ideas, Lord. I was hoping for a retirement village and a pimped-out golf cart.

We expect the Bible to fulfill our fantasies. But the Bible's about reality. Jesus was about saying what's real, instead of telling people what they want to hear. If you read more than just the passages you like, you'll find that Jesus is an equal opportunity offender. He offends liberals in one place and then turns right around and offends the fundamentalists. In fact, if you read enough, it starts to seem that what Jesus likes to do best of all is to shake us up. If you think Jesus is all puppies and kittens, say hello to some fire and brimstone. If you think Jesus is all about destroying the evildoers, shake hands with the sinners and outcasts. Jesus likes shaking us up, and he really, really seems to like shaking us up when it comes to talking about the future. 

Yes, the Bible can really be a downer. But that's not always a bad thing. Maybe Jesus really does think think the future's all gloom and destruction. But I doubt it. We don't need Jesus to help us be pessimists. Just turn on your TV or radio and you can get that 24 hours a day. Maybe Jesus is a downer because he's trying to scare us out of our future fantasies and bring us down to this reality.


Those of you who like the idea of future catastrophe are in luck. You remember 'Independence Day,' when aliens destroyed the White House with a laser beam? 'The Day After Tomorrow' when a new ice age froze the Statue of Liberty waist-deep in ice? Last Friday, the 13th (appropriate date), director Roland Emmerich, brought us his crowning achievement of global destruction, "2012". 

Roger Ebert says, "You think you've seen end-of-the-world movies? This one ends the world, stomps on it, grinds it up, and spits it out."

Hollywood Reporter says, "If you rolled every disaster movie into one spectacular package, you would wind up with something close to '2012,' [this year's] latest apocalyptic fantasy."

Taking a theological tone, Variety says, "The notion of playing God is implicit in the job of a film director, and rarely has the sense of a wrathful, vengeful deity at the helm... been so comprehensively felt as in '2012.' For demolition maestro, Roland Emmerich, 'Independence Day,' 'Godzilla,' and 'The Day After Tomorrow' were mere appetizers for the lip-smacking smorgasbord of global annihilation laid out here."

And in a faithful, yet solemn review, Entertainment Weekly prayed, "God forgive me, but I enjoyed [it]."

Nothing quite says "Christmas Season" like the end of the world.

I can't predict the future, but I'm pretty sure it will be a cold day in Cairo before our family goes to see this movie. First, because it doesn't star Zac Ephron. And second, because it contains neither singing nor dancing. When '2012: The Musical' comes out, we'll be first in line. Until then, the only hope I have of seeing this movie is if the guys of the Middle School Youth Group need a chaperone.

Whether it's at the movie theater, or from the podiums of political pundits or the pulpits of paranoid preachers, apocalyptic fantasy always gets people's attention. Maybe because it's like a bad dream. When it's over, we wake up and say, "Whew. I'm still here. At least Godzilla's not chasing me. At least aliens aren't taking over" (although Lou Dobbs would argue with that). Vincent Price said that the point of all these movies is to make us laugh at our fears.

The world is destroyed in a movie fantasy and people race to see it at $10 a ticket.

But a lone shooter steps onto a table at Fort Hood, and a nation is still.

Airplanes fly into towers, and something within us all dies with the victims.


"Then Jesus asked... 'Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another. All will be thrown down.'"

"'...nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning....'"

Maybe Jesus could see into the future. Or maybe he could simply see the truth. The truth that only in fantasies do the works of our hands and our footprints on the earth turn to anything else but dust.


But true.

Jesus looked at the shiny golden walls of the temple, a structure twice as large as the Roman Forum, four times larger than the sacred Acropolis in Athens, where a single stone weighed over one hundred tons -- Jesus looked at this marvel of earthly achievement and said, "Not one stone will be left here upon another." 

And he was right.

Maybe he saw the future, or maybe he just saw the truth that nothing earthly remains.

If you think your accomplishments will save you, if you think your parents will bail you out, if you think your children will support you, if you think you can construct your own immortality, think again. 

Jesus says as much in the language of armageddon and people think they know what it means in a "we'll win, they'll lose" kind of way, but they're wrong. No one is exempt. It's not apocalyptic prediction, it's simple, human truth.


It's telling that this passage comes immediately after the story where Jesus sits and watches all the rich men dump their big bags of gold into the temple treasury, money that helped build the amazing, huge temple. But you remember how the story goes? They aren't the ones he cared about. The one he lifted up to the eternal pages of scripture was the widow who gave her two cents, all she had to live on.

Elsewhere, Jesus says, Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:33)

Again and again, Jesus warns us, if you want eternal life, stop trying to make yourself last eternally. Care for the poor, release the captives, visit the sick, love your enemies... not because these things will make you indestructible, not because they'll make you unforgettable. But because they'll help someone else live one more day. Give your two cents, give everything, not because it'll make you last, but because it's a sign of the everlasting. This, this stewardship of life, is the work of your soul. In reality, right now.

Jesus calls us each to go out and minister in his name. Not when we get it all together. Not when the world is a nicer place. Not in some imaginary day after tomorrow in 2012. Jesus calls us in to send us out, right now. Jesus calls us to ministries of eternal things, right now. Eternity is already in your grasp, if -- if -- you can let go of the things that don't last. If you don't get hung up on imagining the future. If you take a step at a time onto the earth beneath your feet you'll realize that today you're already standing on the threshold of eternal.

What's scary, really scary, is how many people miss that. What's scary is how often we miss it by concentrating on our own fulfillment instead of heeding Jesus' warning. If your soul is empty, if your heart is self-absorbed, you don't have to wait until the "end times." You've got your own little cataclysm going on inside. Famines, earthquakes, and all that's just finishing the job. But if you live, following Jesus on good days and bad, knowing that whatever lies ahead you're grounded in your faith, you're already living eternally with him. 

Let Jesus scare you out of your fantasy and back into reality. 

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Mark 12:38-44

Mark 12:38-44
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
Sunday, November 08, 2009

“One must be poor to know the luxury of giving,” wrote English novelist George Eliot.
You English majors will remember George's real name was Mary Anne Evans.
Mary Anne realized that if she wanted to be taken seriously as a writer, she'd better sound like a man, one way or another.
Mary Anne-slash-George would have understood the woman in today's scripture.

When the wealthy men saw the poor widow approach the treasury box, they would not have taken her seriously, because she was a woman.
If they noticed her at all, they scowled.
"What is SHE doing here?" they wondered.
A widow, dressed in black.
"Doesn't she know, you don't mourn in public?"

It wasn't that it was illegal for widows to put money in the treasury.
It just didn't make any sense.
Widows received money from the treasury.
Kind of like their Social Security.

The faithful, wealthy men knew how the system worked, since the time of Moses.
From the first books of scripture, God's law dictated that widows and orphans – who had no male head of household to provide for them – were to be treated with mercy, and given a portion of each offering.
This was their Medicare system.
And it worked like this: If we give them part of each offering, we don't have to look at them.

So, what was she doing there, in the first place?
Before we can answer the question about the poor woman, we have to ask, what were the rich men doing there?
Listen again to how this passage begins.

“He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.”
Giving was a very public act.
You could see how much the other givers were giving to the treasury, and the other givers could see how much you were giving.
Even more, there was apparently a place where an audience could sit down across from the giving place and watch the givers as they gave.
Aren't you glad we don't do that?

In our church, giving is a private matter.
In some churches, if they don't think you're giving enough, they'll ask to see your W-2.
We aren't one of those churches.
Aside from a few members of the Stewardship and Finance Committee, no one knows how much you give.
Unless you, yourself, choose to publicize your giving, no one would ever know the amount of your contribution.
You are set free to give as much or as little as you like.
Is our way better than the way of Jesus’ time?
It’s certainly more comfortable.
How would you feel if the secrecy of giving was taken away?
Would you give more?
Or would you stop giving altogether?

Among certain people, charity or philanthropy is still a very public act.
Bill and Melinda Gates give huge sums of money to health care for people like the poor widow.
Brad Pitt rebuilds a neighborhood in New Orleans.

Lately, we've gotten hooked on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
I see it coming on and go get a new box of Kleenex. (And I'm the worst.)
ABC/Disney and Ty Pennington build a poor family a majestic house in seven days.
"Bus Driver! Move that bus!" and there's weeping and wailing and dancing in the streets.

It's really great to watch huge amounts of money given away.
We don't gather in the public square to watch people pull out their checkbooks, but it's still inspiring to see how other people spend money or give money away.

On one hand we’re looking for clues on how we ought to be using our money.
But on the other hand, watching how other people spend money, or stockpile money, or lose money, or give money away is pure entertainment.

As it is and ever shall be, so it was in the beginning.
Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched.
Perhaps the audience could even hear the money as it fell.
A large bag of coins from Mr. Pharisee. Clank!
Several really large bags of coins from Marcus Warrenus Buffettus.
It was giving as entertainment, both for the rich clankers and for the poor clank-ees.
Even Jesus pulled up a seat to watch.
According to Mark, when Jesus watched the wealthy putting their money in the treasury, he saw them entertaining themselves and entertaining the onlookers.
To hear Mark tell it, that’s what the rich men were doing at the treasury: Being entertainers.

Alone in the line of wealthy men in their shiny white togas, waits a woman in black tatters.
She is so out of place. She is so anti-everything.
Poor among the rich, a woman among men, a mourner among the pop stars.
What is this crazy old lady doing there?
Her turn finally comes, and the crowd inhales as one.
What's she going to do?
Did her husband leave her some hidden fortune?
Has a rich relative provided a gift?
She holds her hand over the bowl.
In slow motion, one copper coin falls from her fingers, tumbling end over end into the plate.
It bounces and spins on its edge.
Spins faster and faster until it falls.

She stares at it.
Then reaches into her tiny cloth purse and pulls out one more coin
and places it gently beside its mate.

Isn’t it strange, how sometimes the quietest sounds are louder than all the clanks?

What is this woman doing here?
Where did she get these coins in the first place?
It may well have been that these were the same coins she had received from the treasury.
It may well have been that this widow was like a first-century Rosa Parks, who had had enough of the back of bus, enough of the bottom of the barrel.
If these coins had come from the treasury, on account of the law of Moses, then Jesus and his followers were witnessing one woman’s singularly bold act against society.
She may have been saying,
Take back your pennies.
Take back your charity.
I refuse to pardon your guilt.
I refuse to be the object of your entertainment.
My existence will not be your luxury.”

If Jesus was right, if this really was all she had to live on, and if the money had come from the treasury as it was supposed to, then when given the choice of living a cast-aside life on the handouts of people who wouldn’t miss her or their money, this woman would rather starve.

Jesus makes a very strong connection between giving everything and the kingdom of God.
When the Rich Young Ruler comes to Jesus and says, “Teacher I’ve kept all the commandments since I was a boy, tell me, what must I do to inherit the kingdom of God?” Jesus says, “You still lack one thing.
Go, sell all you have and give it to the poor.
Then come, follow me.”

It’s not that Jesus disapproved of wealth – his ministry was often supported by the generosity of wealthy persons, such as Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus.
If Mary and Martha had sold all they had and given it to the poor, there wouldn’t have been much left for Jesus.

Our hearts are made good by God; in our hearts we’d love to be able to give away our wealth – all of it if necessary – if doing so would help church or charity.
But we know we can’t walk away from our responsibilities without causing more problems than solutions.
Earthly realities intrude.
We're held hostage by the things we consider our posessions.
The widow gives away everything she has to live on.
Whether that’s two coins or two billion doesn't matter
The fact is she has nothing left in this earthly reality.
Therefore, her entire existence must be focused on a different reality.
This woman has chosen to live in God's reality, the kingdom of heaven.

We live in the wealthiest nation in the history of the earth.
But what does the way we use our wealth show the people in line around us?
In so many ways, we are starved.
We’re starved for entertainment, even though there’s more entertainment around us than we’ll ever watch.
We’re starved for friendship, even though we have more ways to talk to each other than we’ll ever use.
We’re starved for worth, even though our bank accounts say we’re worth more than eighty percent of the rest of the world.
If we’re living for our own luxury, if we’re giving out of our luxury, if we’re existing for our own entertainment, it’s not that we might as well be starving; we already are.

What is the widow doing at the treasury in the first place?
She’s doing exactly the same thing Jesus is.
Both she and he are calling us to live in a different reality
Not some reality show, but a reality that doesn't show.

Both the widow and Jesus are calling us to live.
But instead of living for our own entertainment, they’re calling us to live for the kingdom of heaven.
Both the Son of God and this daughter of circumstance are calling us to listen for something more meaningful than the clanks.
They’re calling us to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, guiding us to use not just our money, but everything we have to transform this world into the kingdom of heaven.

“One must be poor to know the luxury of giving,” wrote Eliot.
But if your mind is set on the kingdom of heaven, giving isn’t a luxury.
A luxury is something frivolous, something you can live without if you have to.
It’s entertainment.
When it comes down to what’s really important, most of us wouldn’t give two cents for all our luxuries put together.
The goodness God put within our hearts tells us God’s kingdom is the only wealth that really lasts.
We know that.
We hear its whispers.
But the pressures of keeping up in this earthly life are really, really loud.
And very immediate.

What were those rich people doing at the treasury, and what was that one, poor widow doing there?
What are you doing at the place where your treasure lies?
Which would you rather have – wealth or worth?
If we’re really trying to turn this world into the kingdom of God, if we’re trying to claim our value as children of God, then we know giving isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity.
If your mind is set on God’s kingdom, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.
It doesn’t matter if your check is large or your money goes plink.
What matters is that you devote yourself - and all you have - to a life of true worth.

You’ve really got to admire the widow in today’s story.
Not just because she gave what she had, but because of the way she did it.
She could have found some less public way to give away what she had.
She could have slipped it to a friend who needed food more than she did.
She could have kept it private.
But instead she stood in that line.
She stood up alongside all those rich young rulers.
She stood up in front of Jesus and everybody.
With her two coins, she said to them all, “I may not have much, but by the power of God Almighty, I am somebody.
I am worth something, and nothing can take that away.
I may choose to give it away, but by God Almighty nothing – and nobody – can take my worth from me,
And you people - you world - you WILL take me seriously!”

I think God wants us all to experience that world-defying, that heavenly freedom.
I think that’s what Jesus did when he surrendered everything for the sake of God’s kingdom.
What he did was no luxury.
But it had infinite worth.
What if you were more like that woman, boldly declaring your worth?
What if we all were?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mark 10:35-45

Mark 10:35-45

The Request of James and John

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ 

And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ 

And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ 

But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ 

They replied, ‘We are able.’ 

Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.

So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 

But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ 

Some friends were telling us about their recent trip to Disney World. Two dads almost got in a fistfight over the Dumbo ride. Dad #1 blatantly broke the rules. He sent his son one Dumbo ahead so they could both ride single. Everybody knows, when you ride Dumbo, you ride two to a car. Now, because of Dad #1, Dad #2 and his son, who have waited patiently in line for close to an hour, have no car. Dad #2 politely points this out to Dad #1. Dad #1 launches into a verbal tirade, screaming words you definitely aren't supposed to hear at the Happiest Place on Earth. Eventually, some cast members have to separate the two Dads.  The ride goes on. Dad #2 and his crying son watch from the front of the line knowing they'll get first pick of Dumbos on the next go-round. They also get a special golden ticket to reward them for their restraint. Meanwhile, Dad #1 teaches his son an important life lesson: Possession is 9/10ths of the law. And at the Dumbo attraction, where temperatures run high and the lines run long, position is the last 10th.

Possession and position. Two essential rules of the human race. In any race, possession and position make the difference between getting the ride you want and standing in line with the rest of the Dumbos.

Possession and position.

James and John, the Sons of Thunder, cut to the front of the disciple line. Away from and ahead of the other 10 disciples, they ask Jesus to give them whatever they ask. They use their position to get their possession. They ask Jesus if they can sit at his right hand and his left in glory. They want the best sky box seats in heaven. Maybe from their dad, Zebedee, they learned another important life lesson: if you don't ask, you'll never know. Obviously, no one else had asked Jesus for the good seats. What's the worst he could say? No. Which he does. Oh well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Right?

But when disciples #3 through #12 find out what numbers 1 and 2 have done, they're mad. Why are they mad? Because Jesus might have said yes. Disciples #1 and #2 cut line, and then had the nerve to ask for special treatment. Disciples #3 through #12 either were afraid to ask or didn't think to ask. Either way, they almost - almost - lost possession of top position for eternity. 

Possession and position.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Fortune favors the bold. It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll. Words of wisdom. Words you might hear from a person of authority, a person of position, a person of possessions. No one wants advice from a nobody with nothing. 

So how seriously can we possibly take Jesus, when he says, "...whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all." Does he really expect anyone to believe that?

This is a hard saying. Maybe the hardest thing Jesus ever said. If possession is really 9/10ths of the law and position is the remaining 1/10, then Jesus just said something illegal. People who want to take the Bible word-for-word literally don't often mention this one. It's not just counter-intuitive, it's counter-productive. It's like Jesus just doesn't understand how the human race works. You give up your position, you give up your possessions, and what have you got?

"Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all."

I imagine that verse must be especially hard to hear in African-American churches. Or anywhere people have had to fight, tooth and nail for dignity, for basic human rights. 

O Freedom, O Freedom,
O, Freedom over me.
And before I'd be a slave,
I'd be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free.

Amen. I'm not going to argue with that hymn, nor with anyone who carries that prayer in their heart. God bless you if this is your story and your song.

Could it rather be that just as Jesus' understanding of position and possession sounds so wrong to us, maybe his understanding of slavery and freedom is different than ours, too?

I'm a little uncomfortable suggesting that because (a) I don't really know the mind of Jesus as well as I often think I do, and, (b) I don't want to soften Jesus' hard saying to make it easier for us to swallow. Jesus said what he said about position, possession and slavery and maybe he doesn't care whether we feel good about it or not. 

Here's what I mean: In other places of scripture, Jesus himself says that his whole purpose is to bring release to the captives, good news to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed. It's like Jesus himself is singing, "Before you'd be a slave, be buried in your grave." But at the same time, he's also preaching to his disciples, "Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all." The disciples must have felt like their heads were caught between two clashing cymbals.

Maybe Jesus wants these two messages to crash together between our ears. Who said the Bible was supposed to be easy?

In India, they have a saying: Live your life without ambition, but live as those who are ambitious. 

Sounds like one of those, "What's the sound of one hand clapping" things. But in a way, I think Jesus is saying kind of the same thing.

Jesus is saying, "Hey, disciples. If position and possession are what drive you, you're already a slave." You're a slave to your own ambition. If you hate what you have but want more of it, you're a hamster on a wheel, racing the other hamsters on a wheel. Which is kind of how we got a global economic recession based on money that doesn't really exist. Our world is a slave to its own ambition and nobody seems to know how to get off the hamster wheel.

To which Jesus says, "Ahem. Over here, y'all. Been saying this for 2000 years. Anybody ready to listen?"

You're not as free as you might think. What enslaves you? Debt? Your mortgage? How about your parents' expectations? How about the need to prove that you are somebody, that your life is worth something? How about a sense of control? How about the future you can't see, but haunts you late at night when you can't sleep? How about the mistakes of your past you can't shake?

O, freedom. O, freedom over me.

If you're going to be a slave, be a slave to those who are enslaved. Be a slave to setting free other slaves. A person who brings random acts of casseroles. A person who thinks about others' welfare before she thinks of her own. A dad who teaches his kids to give up a seat on the Dumbo attraction before you look like a Dumbo. 

Be a slave to Jesus' vision of who you already are: a child of God. A person whose future and whose past is already made right. A woman who doesn't have to prove she's worthy. A man who doesn't have to prove he's #1.

There's a guy out in California by the name of Dr. Larry Brilliant. Sounds like a joke, but that's his real name. For many years, back in the 1960's Dr. Brilliant was at the forefront of eradicating Small Pox in the third world. Dr. Brilliant has done just about everything, and is now the head of Google.org's philanthropic organization. Dr. Brilliant has gone from being rich to being dirt poor to being really, really wealthy. When asked the secret of success, Dr. Brilliant put it this way. He said, "There are people who get exactly what they want. You think they're the lucky ones, but they're not. The lucky ones are those who do what they are meant to do."

The competition for the best seats in heaven is kind of like winning the award for the shiniest shoes in the graveyard. 

...whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’